AN “affront to democracy” was the widespread view of councillors over proposals to have just 11 political appointees oversee the running of the planned single Scottish police force.
The potential opportunities a single force for Scotland could offer were outlined by senior police officers in a two-hour briefing to last Thursday’s full Scottish Borders Council meeting, but the majority of councillors were uneasy over the proposals for the new force to be overseen by a board of only 11 people and all of them appointed by Government ministers.
Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill believes abolishing the existing eight police forces and creating a new national force, alongside a single national fire and rescue service, would save £130million a year.
Addressing councillors were Lothian and Borders Police Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen and Chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair, commander of the region’s G Division.
They outlined how they believe the new single force – expected to come into operation some time between April and September 2013 – would operate, as well as discussing other topics such as the performance of G Division and local consultation on reduced opening hours at certain police stations. Mr Allen told councillors he was highly optimistic and excited about the opportunities police reform could bring.
He said: “I know there are real concerns, including about the budget and the local relationship with the police.
“But if we can get this right then I think everyone should get better access to better specialist services, as well as access to a quality service across the whole of Scotland.
“I think we will get a less bureaucratic organisation than we currently have. I genuinely believe this is one of the best opportunities to have a rethink and reshape the relationship between the police and local communities.
“And councils have a voice in shaping that relationship. If the arguments are well thought through and we work together, I believe that we will have a new relationship and a new accountability for policing.
“Remember, we are your police – you pay for us and hold us to account.”
However, at the conclusion of the briefing, Councillor Graham Garvie (LD, Tweeddale East) lodged a motion calling for the council’s response to the Government’s consultation paper to be amended so that it called for any new single Scottish Police Authority to be comprised solely of 32 elected councillors.
Mr Garvie told fellow councillors what was proposed for the Scottish Police Authority was, in his opinion, an affront to the normal essential checks and balances of Scotland’s constitution, developed over centuries and the envy of many other countries.
“Operationally, I have no problem with Scotland’s eight police forces being merged into one. I am sure this will produce many much-needed savings and will also increase the effectiveness of our whole police service to all the people of Scotland,” he said.
“But what I am very concerned about is the make-up of the Scottish Police Authority and the proposed appointment arrangements.”
Mr Garvie wanted to know how it would be right for a minister to appoint all 11 members and the chair of the new police authority, as well as approving the appointment of the country’s only chief constable.
“The proposed composition and appointment arangements of the proposed Scottish Police Authority is an affront to democracy, and the accepted checks and balances in our tried and tested system of government, and should be a serious concern to us all, whatever political party or none,” he added.
Councillor Gavin Logan (Con, Tweeddale East), one of SBC’s two elected representatives on Lothian and Borders Police Board, seconded the motion put forward by Mr Garvie. “It is essential that there are elected councillors on the police board because they are answerable to the electorate, unlike Scottish Government appointees,” said Mr Logan. “Otherwise it is a dangerous route to go down – so beware, as history gives examples.”
Mr Garvie’s motion was approved by 24-6. Council leader David Parker was the only member to break ranks with the administration members by opposing the motion and siding with the SNP opposition members who backed Mr Scott’s report as it stood unaltered.
Giving his reasons, Mr Parker said the system for public appointments in Scotland was a tried and tested one and he thought a body with 32 elected members would be too unwieldy.
Mr Parker told TheSouthern this week that he also felt a board of 32 elected members would eventually split along party political lines.
“Then you would end up with a highly politicised police board,” he told us. “Lothian and Borders Police Board’s own preference was for a board of 18 members – 10 elected and eight appointees.
“I can think of plenty of excellent people here in the Borders who wouldn’t want to be a councillor but their experience would make them excellent police board members.”